SM East grad Chase Hanna edges legend Tom Watson in Watson Challenge

Chase Hanna and caddie Danny Summers, a Mission Hills native and Rockhurst High School student, after Hanna's Watson Challenge win. Photo courtesy William Hanna.
Chase Hanna and caddie Danny Summers, a Mission Hills native and Rockhurst High School student, after Hanna’s Watson Challenge win. Photo courtesy William Hanna.

Growing up in northeast Johnson County learning to play golf, it was pretty hard to avoid idolizing Tom Watson. So for SM East grad Chase Hanna, just playing in a tournament named for the eight-time major championship winner was exciting enough.

But winning it? And beating the legend in the process? That’s the stuff dreams are made of.

Hanna, who will start his junior year playing golf for the University of Kansas this fall, edged the 65-year old Watson by a stroke at Mission Hills Country Club Sunday in the final round of the Watson Challenge, becoming the first-ever amateur to win the tournament, which was in its ninth year. Watson has won the tournament five times.

“This tournament is designed to see who is the best player in Kansas City, amateur or pro alike,” Watson said. “This year, the best player here was an amateur.”

The win marked a big step forward for the 20-year-old Hanna. He finished tied for ninth place last year when the tournament was played at Loch Lloyd. But Hanna was locked in from start, shooting a 3-under 67 on Friday and a par round of 70 on Saturday that had him tied with Watson and Michael Letzig entering Sunday’s round.

Two birdies on the back nine gave Hanna a one stroke lead over Watson heading into the 18th hole. Hanna shot par on the hole, and Watson missed a long birdie attempt, giving Hanna the win.

“We shook hands afterwards and Mr. Watson was very gracious,” Hanna said. “It was something I’ll always remember.”

Hanna said the experience of playing in the same group as Watson, for whom he had rooted as a youth, was somewhat surreal. He remembers being glued to the television in 2009 when the 60-year-old Watson shocked the golf world by pushing 26-year-old Stewart Cink to a playoff in the Open Championship.

“I remember very clearly being at home watching them battle it out,” he said. “I was rooting so hard for him.”

Now, Hanna says he hopes to take the momentum of the win into the season at KU.

“I’ve never won a college event,” he said. “I was to carry this forward and hopefully get my first college win. And then rattle a few more off.”